Would it be a good idea to …
… acknowledge that for Northeastern Pennsylvania’s image to change for the better, in many cases, its people and institutions need to change for the better?
Civic leaders from Luzerne and Lackawanna counties last week received the latest status report on the region’s progress. The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development, which has offices in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, annually puts this area under the microscope, mining data to see where we stand in many categories: educational, social and economic.
This year’s assessment includes a couple encouraging signs, notably that the area is no longer hemorrhaging residents. More people moved to Luzerne County than left over the time frame tracked (2009-2010), bumping up net migration in the county by a modest 551 people, according to a summary given Thursday at the institute’s ninth annual Indicators Forum. Another bright spot: The manufacturing industry here continues to churn out products, seemingly putting the Great Recession in the rear-view mirror.
The downer: The region’s image stinks.
In that regard, we’re in much the same league as Paula Deen in 2013.
Or Don Sterling today.
“There is a perception that this is an extremely crime-ridden area and extremely dangerous to be in,” said Teri Ooms, the institute’s executive director. That notion, plus other negative associations with this place, are collectively “a significant factor in preventing us from moving ahead in an aggressive manner,” she said.
She’s right, of course.
But the cure-all won’t be a slick new marketing campaign that portrays Northeastern Pennsylvania as some sort of Shangri-La, or an an Orwellian turn of phrase in which “criminal” becomes “judicial nonconformist.” No, the real solution involves the slow, often uncomfortable, process of improving.
Let’s start with the news media, for example. The Times Leader and other news outlets across the region, while obligated to cover certain lawbreakers, arrests and trials, perhaps could more effectively place those topics in context, explaining the real risks, if any, to the public. Television producers, in particular, could expand their definition of “news,” so broadcasts don’t become a litany of arrests, guilty pleas, heinous crimes, fires and vehicle crashes. (As it is lately, viewers of WBRE and WNEP could easily get a skewed view of what routinely happens in local communities.)
Separately, greater emphasis could be placed on crime-reduction efforts, such as after-school programs for at-risk children.
Regarding public corruption, meanwhile, leaders of the business community can amplify calls for – and increase expectations of – ethical conduct. Ditto for members of school boards and other government bodies.
In much the same way, area residents can make meaningful changes that get to the root of persistent social troubles such as substance abuse and poverty.
Negative perceptions are less likely to persist if people see and hear about substantive efforts to address the problems in new and comprehensive ways.
Equally important, as Ooms noted in her remarks, is to not overlook all the wonderful aspects of this area and the assets in our own “backyard.”
This region has tremendous natural beauty and resources, not the least of which are its state parks, forests and the Susquehanna River. Among its other attributes: top-notch medical facilities, fantastic sports franchises, inspiring architecture, many well-performing schools, an assortment of entertainment venues, thriving locally owned businesses and a range of higher-education institutions.
Most important, Northeastern Pennsylvania perpetually has an abundance of caring people.
If more of them banded together – changing behaviors and organizations, as needed – our region could finally meet its potential.
Give us your feedback about this idea by sending a letter to the editor or by posting comments to this editorial at timesleader.com or facebook.com/timesleader. Likewise, share your idea for improving the community and making area residents’ lives better. Maybe we’ll spotlight your suggestion in a future editorial and ask readers, “Would it be a good idea to …”